Notes and Pics from the Camino Real near Gonzaga Bay

David K - 10-17-2004 at 07:34 PM

Sorry gang, I just can't get this out of my system! From :

The part of El Camino Real we hiked, was built by the Franciscans after Junipero Serra's walk from Loreto to Alta California. Serra and the Jesuits who preceded him, reached Mision Santa Maria by walking up the canyon then made a steep climb to get out of the canyon on what we today call the 'Indian Trail'. In fact, this Indian trail was the early Camino Real route. It was so dangerous for pack animals, the new route was built which stays out of the canyon, just north of the rim. Both the old and newer trails join on the bulldozed road that ends about 2 miles east, from the mission. The Indian Trail or first Camino Real continues from the very end of the bulldozed road and drops to the canyon bottom. This can be seen in an aerial photo at

Graham Mackintosh tells me the newer Camino Real comes down the mountain and joins the bulldozed road below (west of) the end of it. He says it is very difficult to spot. Don Jorge hiked it in December, after my hike, and it indeed connects with the bulldozed road, halfway between the arroyo and the end (of the bulldozed road) on the ridge. See Don Jorge's excellent web page on the Camino Real and canyon routes from Gonzaga to Mision Santa Maria. (Includes Photos, GPS, Text, and Map!)

Per my GPS, Chris and I were less than a mile and a half east from the end of the bulldozed road when we turned back!

With a GPS to help stay on the trail (which isn't always obvious) I am estimating it would take 6 hours max. to hike from the end of the road (coming from Gonzaga) to the mission. Bring a minimum of a gallon of water (in cool weather) per person. A return hike down the canyon would make that less, if you drink from the year-round stream that runs to about a mile west from the Gonzaga side road end.

Visit my Baja Missions web site for photos of Santa Maria and other Baja mission sites:

In April, 2003, I drove to the mission from the west, with my daughter and some of my Baja Internet friends:

Read more about this trip and other Baja adventures on the Baja Nomad discussion boards:

See all my past Baja travel web pages, links to other Baja web sites, old and new maps of Baja, and more at:

GPS Directions (map datum NAD27 Mexico)

Take Hwy. 5 south 7.4 miles from Rancho Grande, turn west: 29?41.094'/ 114?24.566'

3.2 miles west of Hwy. 5 (after dropping down a steep grade), go straight where most traffic curves left for Las Palmitas: 29?41.278'/ 114?27.639'

0.8 miles from above, park at huge boulder: 29?41.68'/ 114?28.20'

Hike to north bank of Arroyo Santa Maria to (Waypoint 1): 29?41.733'/ 114?28.175' elev. 609'

Go northwest and climb out of valley, note ocotillos. Pass wooden sign pointing to the mission.

Along left side of side valley (Waypoint 2): 29?42.374'/ 114?28.566' elev. 741'

On first padre built switchback up: 29?42.669'/ 114?28.937' elev. 906' Exciting!

On a ridge, trail continues northwest: 29?42.671'/ 114?29.425' elev. 1308'

On the Camino Real: 29?42.748'/ 114?29.482' elev. 1391'

Crossing ridges and little mesas: 29?43.008'/ 114?29.967' elev. 1477'

Drop along side of ridge, trail narrow: 29?43.074'/ 114?30.128' elev.1610'

End of today's hike just beyond this last clear sign of the old trail: 29?43.141'/ 114?30.189' elev. 1702' Don Jorge found it up higher when he was here. See his web site for additional waypoints to the mission valley.

From Don Jorge: JCN. ECR & bulldozed road: 29?43.12'/ 114?31.71' elev.1421' (End of bulldozed road, east of the mission: 29?43.033'/ 114?31.556' elev. 1,615' )

Mision Santa Maria: 29?43.888'/ 114?32.791' elev.1651'

See Don Jorge's web page for more details of the entire trail to the mission and down the canyon.

[Edited on 10-18-2004 by David K]

David K - 10-18-2004 at 09:47 AM

The Camino Real hike to the mission starts here, on the north bank of Arroyo Santa Maria, where animal tracks converge at the only place where a climb out of the arroyo is possible. Waypoint 1.
Photo pointing north-west, the direction of the Camino Real where it climbs out of the river valley to a higher side valley.

David K - 10-18-2004 at 10:00 AM

The first climb in the previous photo is out of the white sand arroyo... This second, bigger climb is out of the river valley to a side valley running northwest/southeast.

David K - 10-18-2004 at 10:11 AM

A few hundred yards from the top of the climb, along the side valley is this reassuring sign that you are indeed on the Camino Real. It is just a narrow track here. Continue along the left hand side of this valley heading northwest.

David K - 10-18-2004 at 10:30 AM

Waypoint 2. In 2002, this was the end of my hike. In 2003, my son and I continued on.

The valley opened up and we kept to the left hand side as no trail was clearly marked. However, the direct path to the first switchback up is 'straight' rather than staying left along the hill, where the valley opens up.

A GPS will greatly help you to get to Waypoint 3 the quickest. By staying along the left edge of the valley we did find the switchback up. Someone had even painted an arrow and a mission on a rock to show the bottom of the 230 + year old switchback up, out of the valley.

David K - 10-18-2004 at 10:45 AM

On the top of the ridge we could see all the way back back to mouth of the canyon, where we started the hike (Waypoint 1). Also, we could see Punta Final and the Sea of Cortez at one point. The Camino Real is paralleling the Santa Maria canyon on top of the mountain, going from ridge to ridge. The trail is fairly well ducked (marked with rock cairns), but does disappear every so often. Makes this hike on the mission trail more interesting and these few photos or details will not spoil the adventure, trust me! I can't wait to get back and go all the way to the mission.

Boojums above Gonzaga!

David K - 10-18-2004 at 10:49 AM

Well, it is just all that more fun when the Camino Real passes among boojum trees!

The end, for us!

David K - 10-18-2004 at 10:57 AM

The trail disappeared on us. My son Chris wanted to continue on. We had barely enough time to make it back to my truck by dark at this point. Chris wanted to spend the night up there... what a boy! Sarah was with Brandi back at Alfonsina's and we didn't need to worry them nor risk a cold night without warm gear.

A couple weeks later Don Jorge followed our route and continued on to the mission and back down in the canyon. He found the Camino Real up higher from this photo. Read his excellent report and photos and map at

Trail north rim

Don Jorge - 11-4-2004 at 07:58 AM

You can see the ancients trail on the North Rim from up above the canyon on the South side.


Don Jorge - 11-4-2004 at 08:02 AM

The water level has dropped considerably in the canyon during the last 6 months.
But in the big pools water is to be found.


Don Jorge - 11-4-2004 at 08:13 AM

High above the Canyon on the south side area series of mesas identifiable on the Mexican topo Jaraguay HIID28. Amazingly these mesas are made soil and contained fossils and evidence of human vistors.
I will post a page later when I am done visiting the place. Two more trips plannedin the next month.

David K - 11-4-2004 at 08:14 AM

Great photos Jorge... I am anxious to see your trip report! I just mentioned it in the thread by Randy Mac...

David K - 11-4-2004 at 08:54 AM

Here's a shot of the trail, looking back (southeast) from where he just hiked. The big Santa Maria canyon is to the right. The trail is in the center.